Recall Elections

Introduction: The right to recall a public officer was added to the Nevada Constitution in 1912. By circulating a petition and qualifying for the ballot, voters can remove any elected official except a United States Senator or Representative in Congress. Between 1993 and 2004, 108 notices of recall were filed with the secretary of state.

The "Progressive Era" of American political reform (circa 1890 through 1920s) added three populist provisions to the Nevada Constitution: initiative, referendum, and recall. The right to recall a public officer was added in 1912 by a vote of 8,418 to 1,683.

Recall elections are used to remove an elected official from office before the end of the official's term. This type of election either removes the official from office or replaces him or her with another person. Nevada is one of eighteen states that permit the recall of state officers, but thirty-six states, including Nevada, allow for the recall of local officers. In Nevada, only Representatives in Congress and United States Senators are not subject to recall proceedings; they must be impeached by their colleagues to be removed from office.

To recall an elected officer is difficult at best. Many notices of intent to circulate recall petitions have been filed to initiate recall elections, but usually insufficient signatures are collected to qualify the petitions for election. Between 1993 and 2004, 108 notices of recall were filed with the secretary of state. Only thirty-one recall petitions resulted in an election being called. Of those elections held, twenty officials were recalled by the voters.

In Nevada, no statewide elected official has been subject to a recall election. In certain counties, however, the voters have used the recall right to remove elected officials from office. The officials most often subject to successful recalls are school board trustees, city council, and town board members, general improvement district officials, local board members, and sheriffs. The school board trustees have been the most likely to be removed from office and the sheriffs least likely.

After the law was enacted, the first person to be recalled was J.W. Puett in 1937. He was recalled from the Carlin Town Board by a margin of seven votes. Although records may be incomplete, Ken Ellsworth, sheriff of Pershing County, appears to be the only official to face two recall elections. In the first one, in 1976, he was not recalled. In 1977, however, he was voted out of office.

Unlike at regular elections, a candidate's political party is not reflected on recall election ballots.

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